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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  June 2, 2012 12:00am-12:30am PDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with pulitzer prize-winning columnist anna quinlan. it ran for more than a dozen years and was the basis for her best seller, "thinking out loud. in addition to her new memoir, we'll get her thoughts on the number of current events including the battle for women voters in this year's presidential race. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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tavis: she is a pulitzer prize- winning writer and best-selling author. her latest is called "lots of candles, plenty of cake." good to have you on the program. >> thank you. tavis: this book, in many respects, is about aging. as you have become more chronologically gifted, whether or not you think you're doing this gracefully? >> highlight to think i am at that we are having a lot more fun getting older than we pretend. it is interesting to me. everybody would amend a grown man to carry on. if i waited long enough and
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said, what you are saying is that you like your life lot better when you were 30? everybody would get real quiet and it meant that it wasn't the case. they felt like they were grown in the themselves in a way. and one of the interesting things i discovered in talking about your grandmother, i did a search of my uses of the word elderly in my copy over the years, and you will not be surprised to hear that the older i got, the less often i used the word elderly in print. tavis: it does not surprise me, but it is a funny anecdotes. i was anxious to get into your book because i have done this to myself countless times, to ask myself at which age if we can go back, at what age what i want to go back to?
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the answer that i concluded every time i asked myself is that my life now, in so many ways economically, relationships and maturity, this is the best time of my life, but we never seem to process aging in that way. >> i am so glad to hear you say that. i've a there was a long time where we got real invested in the youth culture. and not coincidentally, it was when the baby boomers, who take up a lot of space on the planet, were young. now the baby boomers are getting older and we are suddenly discovering that there are great things about getting older, that you have time for your friendships, you appreciate them in ways that you did not before. yoo-hoo have launched kids, you understand how to place your
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work in the panorama of the rest of your life. what i wrote this book, i thought, that is its. if you think of life as a job, may be time you get to say 60, you have gotten good at it. tavis: you have more years behind you then you have in front of you. what is the value of getting this right and you don't have time to work it out? >> we have more time. one of the things that got me on this topic for this book was that when i was researching the column i wrote for 2009 saying that i was stepping down from my column at newsweek because i wanted to make room for newer and fresh voices out there, i discovered that in the year i was born, 1952, the average life expectancy was 68. i was shocked by that figure and every time i mention it, i hear a gasp from somebody in
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the crowd. we are more or less at 80. it means we have gotten 12 additional years. if we really feel like we are comfortable in our own skin, we have a longer time to live out that kind of third or fourth life. tavis: let me raise something you have spoken around. we added the 12 years since you were born in 1952, and i can give you evidence and bits of data after data that suggests that just because we are living longer doesn't mean that life is getting easier, particularly in this great recession and the impact that poverty is having on seniors and the talk of austerity.
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your thoughts on what it means to live longer but not necessarily live better. >> you are right. frankly, i am writing this memoir from the perspective of somebody who is prosperous and has means. having said that, one of the things that i discovered about the additional 12 years is that i don't think they are added to the end of life. i they the last couple of years of life for many people are not the same as they were 50, 60, or 70 years ago. they can be really tough. people that are in their sixties and seventies are living a different kind of life than their grandparents latter, even in these tough times. a lot of them are more active, a lot of them are still working which was not the case. at a lot of them are challenged by the fact that a record number of people in their
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sixties have living parents. a record number of people in their sixties have kids that it may still depend upon them. you're getting squeezed both sides. you're taking care of your mom and dad and still doing caregiving with your kids which is not easy. overall, there is a level of satisfaction that might be unparalleled. tavis: to the point you just made it, taking care of aging parents, i take that and you talk about it in the text. you lost your mother when your 19, so you are not one of the 60-year-old that has the blessing in the pleasure of taking care of your parents. becoming more chronologically gifted without your mother for so many of these years, you have lived longer without her that he lived with her. >> that is true, sadly. my dad is still very much alive
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and i just had a rough couple of months where we were handling some medical stuff together, which was challenging. but i think the gift of my mother's death if anything so terrible can be said have an upside is that i was always aware that life was fleeting and that you better live while you have the chance. as i say in the book, since i was 19 years old, i felt like i was living for two. what i outlived my mother and i got into my 40's, it felt like a miracle to me. it made me feel as though aging was a privilege. and i still feel that. if people can talk all they want about the need or the hair and i can tell you unequivocally that my mother would have been happy to have a bum knee and gray hair if she had gotten the hang out with her grandchildren. >> a wonderful " of that comes
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from inside the text and i want to read it. what i think of the ark of my life from child to a young woman, to aging adults. first that was why was that i didn't know who i was, that i invented someone and became her, i began to like what i had invented, and i was what i was again. i wasn't alone in that particular progression. tell me what the secret is to learning to be comfortable with the skin that you are in. >> a lot of people, particularly a lot of women get to this stage when i would say they are over 50. we face a lot of harsh judgment from the world, we women. if you are a full-time mother,
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you should be out working. if you are out working, your kids must be overlooked. your hair is not quite right and maybe you are a size bigger than you should be. i think there comes a moment when you have matured to the point where you suddenly think, nonsense. i am fine just the way i am. it is an odd feeling because it reminds me of being 5 again. when you are five, you don't pay attention to what anyone thinks of you. i sort of feel like it comes around again, that when you get to a certain age, you have lived enough and you have your friends to support you and your family, you wake up and think, i am ok. tavis: to the point about the push back, my word and not yours, that women face in society today, that war on women we see being waged whether you want to accept that nomenclature or not, it is true that there are battles that
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women are fighting now that i thought and you thought and we thought you had won a long time ago. >> i get a sense that there is a huge disconnect between the political powers and what is really happening. right wing conservatives can talk about contraception all they want, but the women of america are using birth control. it is as simple as that. if that were the case, i would have 14 kids at this time instead of three of them. i think sometimes the political mechanism is completely disconnected from the people. what i will say is that history tells us that when everything starts to move too fast, whenever progress makes people
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feel a little breathless, one of the go to spots that government and the ruling powers that society goes to is to try to repress women. it is what the taliban does, it is what gets done in the middle east. it is clearly something that certain mainly conservative groups in the united states would like to do. they miss the the old days when men were men and women or nothing. the problem with freedom is that you just can't go back. once people see what it means to be free, you can't go back. they will keep nattering on about this or that and maybe they will make another stab at defunding the fabulous planned parenthood or something of a sort. to my mind, it is not going to work. tavis: how do you see these issues playing out on the campaign trail? you know you are at about liberal and if governor romney
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is the presumptive nominee, how will these issues play out? how does this play out on the campaign trail? >> i think it was one of his chief advisers that said that after the primary season is over, he is going to shake the etch a sketch and start the clock running again. and if i had to guess what the new at to sketch a picture is going to be like, it is going to be considerably less to the right. it he has backed himself into a couple of corners that i don't think will serve him in the general election, the main one being very harsh stance on immigration which are not only short-sighted, but in my mind,
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immoral. he was trying to set himself up for a different attitude towards women when he was asked one question about birth control and said dismissively, nobody is going to try to outlaw birth control. there will be republican party platforms that will coalesce around their convention. unless i miss my guess, it will be considerably more conservative on these issues. i think that will give americans a clear set of choices. tavis: is the gender gap going to factor in? >> it looks like it will favor the president, particularly among white suburban women. i certainly think the most important thing will be turned out. can the president bring out the voters that were so enthusiastic about him in 2008 and seemed a little disenchanted
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now? can he bring the young people, the latinos, the white suburban moms. i think that governor romney has to worry that his turn out is going to be low. he is not going to bring out the tea party stalwarts. if he does not, it is pretty clear he will lose the election. tavis: he clearly has a problem with his conservative base, mr. obama has a problem with his progressive base, so both of them have problems at the margins of their parties. let me rephrase. obama has a problem with progressives, romney is a problem with conservatives. giving some sense, how would you grade him on women's issues? it is a sign of the lily
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ledbetter law. they gave him very high marks for that. he picked hillary clinton as a secondary -- as the secretary of state. how would you grade him on women's issues? >> he put to stellar women on the united states supreme court. and also, when the members of congress came to us during the budget debacle a year-and-a- half back and said that we want to defund planned parenthood, he said, not going to happen. those were more less his exact words. i really appreciate that he drew that particular line in the sand. if i were to fall of the president, it would be for
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wasting what i think is substantial time trying to reach across the aisle to reach by partisan conclusions with people that were not interested in policy and only interested in his personal destruction. if he came up with compromises that they had spelled out, they would change what they wanted from him because all they wanted was to see him fall flat on his face. i think he wasted a lot of time with those people when he could of been going full speed ahead, particularly on the health care plan. tavis: you have three kids, the president is making a major push for young people, particularly on college campuses. student loan debt exceeds credit card debt. what about the president and
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young people and whether or not he can inspire them this time around as he did the first time around? >> i hope he can. the unemployment rate is still very disconcerting. it is nowhere near as bad as it is in some of the european countries. it is disparaging for people that want to graduate from college, get an apartment and a job and move forward with their lives. i am not sure the republicans offered much of an alternative. i worry that they stay home and election day. tavis: the new memoir, and the book, you offer his advice to young people. one of them is to stop paying attention to people that want to smack you down.
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and the other hand, realize you don't know very much. >> i think that i say that you know nothing. tavis: i was trying to be generous and charitable to the young people. >> remembering 23, i was all engineman no steering. i have the wheels but no steering. it is marcus true -- it is true, when you are young you are likely to listen to the nay-sayers. about what kind of job he should get and how you should look. those are people that are not particularly happy with how they behaved. you have to listen to that interior voice. open yourself up to the fact that experience is going to
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teach you year after year and decade after decade, i've very badly wanted to write a newspaper column when i was 21 years old. you are a really good writer, but you have not live long enough to be qualified to live out loud. if i had written a column when i was 21, i would be apologizing for it today. especially when you write a book like this looking back on your life, there is such a depth of understanding that you acquire under -- over time with the help of the people that love you, that is how you get back to what you think and believe. tavis: i am trying to juxtapose
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the notion of young people knowing not much of anything or nothing at all with not foreclosing on their hopes and on their dreams and on their aspirations. how do you navigate this editor telling you that you have not done enough yet to live out loud with not having your hopes and james and aspirations feel crushed? >> i went to a women's college, the most elected college for women in america today. if there is one thing i came out of there with, because it was a women's college and a great institution of higher education, it was fearlessness. i sometimes think that courage is the thing that you need more than any other thing. it is fear that cripples us. it is fear that accounts for
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racism, sexism, xenophobia. i feel like if i can get past the the fear and to say i am afraid to do that and i will do it anyhow, that is the way to have a satisfying life moving forward. i think i have that fearlessness even as a young person that was not tempered by experience or wisdom. tavis: wonderful piece of the book where you talk about the fact that accidents the germans so much what happens in our lives. tell me more. >> it is really true. i have this fabulous college education. at college, i met the man to whom i have been married for 34 years and is the father of the three kids. i seriously considered going to another college and my life would be completely different in every way. these accidental decisions you make about changing jobs and moving into an apartment where you make new friends and confidants, going to win city over another, sometimes they
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are completely arbitrary decisions. you haven't put as much thought into it as you should have that they changed the course of your whole life. tavis: you have your memoir, a wonderful chapter on faith. it is a chapter on faith, but you acknowledge that you are not of out. >> i am not anymore. that was probably the hardest chapter in the book to write and the saddest in many ways for me. i grew up in a very devout catholic family, my husband is also catholic. we raised our kids in the church, and for many years, despite what i thought were very punitive decisions about women in the church, i stayed and stayed, the catholic church
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is my church and i am going to stay here despite what the hierarchy does. and then after the recent events are around the pedophilia scandal and the way the church responded or did not respond to those events, and the continued attacks on women, i said to myself one day, this far and no farther. i stopped going to mass, and it was painful for me and it was painful for my family. i just could not ratify their behavior and their decisions anymore by shelling out on sunday. tavis: in the 45 seconds i have, one of the things i agree most with in the book, you make it very clear that we will not find salvation in stuff. >> it is true. a look at the shopping spree we went on during the '90s and we
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are looking at all that stuff in storage facilities and say, why in the world did i buy this? tavis: you know what a great writer that anna quinlan is, have done no justice at all to her text. "lots of candles, plenty of cake." a memoir of one of the best writers the nation has ever known. thank you for your time. that is our show for tonight, you can,ou ra -- download our app in the app store. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with new york times best selling
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author gail collins. we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. >> pbs. >> be more. >> pbs.
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